Federal government awards Fairfield University sociology professor $353,000 over three years for project with five local high schools

The federal government has awarded Fairfield University $353,000 over three years to enable Kurt Schlichting, Ph.D., professor of sociology and anthropology at Fairfield University, to implement a Geographic Information Systems program in five area high schools.

Central High School in Bridgeport, Fairfield College Preparatory School, Kolbe Cathedral High School in Bridgeport, Rice High School in New York City and Weston High School, will all receive training and GIS software, which students use to plot data onto maps.

For example, a study on urban development can be enhanced by showing students a map of population density throughout Fairfield County.

But that is just the beginning. GIS can map data to illustrate income disparity in the United States or global environmental concerns in Asia. Maps can be made with historical data to provide students with a picture of development over the years.

"It's great because it's visual, and you can improve students' analytical skills and geographical literacy," Schlichting said.

The software is a valuable tool for increasing students' knowledge, said JoAnne Jakab, principal of Kolbe Cathedral High School in Bridgeport.

"I'm very excited about this because we are always seeking to increase students' skills, particularly critical thinking and analyzing data," Jakab said.

The grant is a boon to the area, said Rep. Christopher Shays (R-Bridgeport).

"This funding will facilitate a valuable partnership between Fairfield University and neighboring high schools and allow them to keep pace with new technologies," Shays said.

Schlichting's "University-High Schools Collaboration: Analytical Skills, Technology, International Studies" program will receive $141,453 in the first year, from the Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education (FIPSE).

Only 61 of the 1,313 applications received by the Comprehensive Program were awarded money, according to Joan Krejci Griggs, program officer and coordinator of the Comprehensive Program for FIPSE, which is part of the U.S. Department of Education.

"This is an extremely competitive grant," Griggs said, adding that Fairfield's application received funding, in part, because it put new technology to innovative use and will work with high schools.

"Lots of studies have said that we need to invigorate secondary education," Schlichting said.

The GIS software increases students' use and understanding of technology in addition to providing a virtually infinite number of social and geographical lessons.

Eventually, Schlichting would like to offer the program to as many area high schools as possible. The five current high schools were asked to participate in the initial program because they all have past working relationships with Fairfield University, Schlichting said. The first step will be to visit each high school and evaluate its computer resources. The FIPSE grant will not fund computer hardware, but if a school requires more hardware, such as a server, Fairfield University will seek other funding to build up the high school's computer resources.

The grant will fund the $2,500 to $3,000 cost per high school to install GIS software and fund some of the faculty from each high school to spend about a week at Fairfield University during the summers to learn about the software. Those faculty members will continue to receive support on use of the program from Fairfield University via the Internet.

The grant will fund a GIS specialist, Chris Calienes, to work with the schools and their faculty. For the last three years, Calienes has trained and supported Fairfield University professors using the GIS program in their classes, thanks to funding from the Rockefeller Brothers Fund and the Adrian & Jessie Archbold Charitable Trust.

Calienes has worked with a wide range of classes at Fairfield University, from international studies to statistics. He helps professors design specialized exercises for their classes that highlight a given lesson. To study social problems, for example, the class might create a map of urban poverty.

"You look at space as a variable," Calienes said. "There are wealthy areas and there are poor areas of the world. Do they tend to be clustered or spread out?"

"Dr. Schlichting has been a leader in introducing GIS technology into a variety of disciplines here at Fairfield University," said Orin Grossman, Ph.D., academic vice president at Fairfield. "It is entirely consistent with our Jesuit mission that he has expanded his outreach to include partnerships with high schools, many of which have large numbers of minority students.

"This grant will allow these students access to the most sophisticated technology and training all too often available only to the richer high schools," Dr. Grossman said. "By seeking to create a more level playing field of opportunity, Dr. Schlichting and the other faculty and students involved are truly living out the Jesuit ideal of men and women for others."

Students at Weston High School have enjoyed using the software in smaller collaborations with Fairfield because it enables them to solve real problems that they could face in the working world, said Mary Murphy, Ph.D., an English teacher at Weston.

"They sense that it's a very legitimate thing," Murphy said. "It isn't some sort of school-designed exercise." The software also provides up-to-the-minute data, Murphy said. "It enhances programs with the inclusion of information we could not otherwise obtain," she said.

Rice High School, a private school in New York City, will be among the first collaborators.

"The program is valuable to us because it would continue to put Rice High School on the forefront of technology used by secondary school students," said John Spinale, social studies chair at the school.

Spinale added that the software goes beyond the typical search for information that students are accustomed to with use of the Internet.

"With a lot of technology today, so much is about just retrieving data," Spinale said. With the GIS software, "they're creating their own results."

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Media Contact: Nancy Habetz, (203) 254-4000, ext. 2647, nhabetz@fairfield.edu

Posted on October 15, 2002

Vol. 35, No. 92

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